© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Vehicles of Russian peacekeepers leaving Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh area for Armenia go an Armenian checkpoint on a street close to the village of Kornidzor, Armenia September 22, 2023. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze/File Photo
By Andrew Osborn
(Reuters) – Russian international coverage hawks savoured chaotic scenes at Kabul airport when U.S. forces give up Afghanistan two years in the past. Images of fleeing Armenians at Russia’s personal peacekeeping base at an airport in Nagorno-Karabakh have been tougher for them to observe.
Just as Washington’s retreat prompted some Americans to stress over U.S. energy and emboldened its foes, the obvious impotence of Russian peacekeepers stationed in Karabakh to forestall Turkish-backed Azerbaijani forces from sweeping in to grab the world by pressure is awkward for Moscow.
Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave internationally recognised as Azerbaijan however run by a breakaway administration since a battle in the early Nineteen Nineties, is in a nook of the previous Soviet Union that Moscow views as its personal yard however the place its affect is below strain from Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran at a time when it’s distracted by its personal battle in Ukraine.
Russia, which has army amenities, together with an airbase, in Armenia, has signalled it has no intention of withdrawing its forces from the South Caucasus, a area crisscrossed with oil and gasoline pipelines.
But its dealing with of the Karabakh crisis has pressured it right into a blame sport with Armenia and obliged it to defend its international coverage in the area.
Hundreds are believed to have been killed in Karabakh in current days the place over 100,000 ethnic Armenian civilians will now have to decide on between exile from what they view as their historic homeland or integration into what lots of them see as a hostile state regardless of Azerbaijani assurances.
“The dramatic photos of many frightened people at Stepanakert airport (in Karabakh) are an obvious visual rhyme with the photos of crowds at Kabul airport in 2021,” mentioned Alexander Baunov, a former Russian diplomat who’s now a senior fellow on the Carnegie think-tank.
“Moscow concluded from the Kabul pictures that America was weak and that the historical chance to deal with Ukraine had come. Who will draw what conclusions from the Karabakh pictures?”
The anger felt by some Russians over what they view as their declining affect in the South Caucasus was amplified by the killing of 5 Russian peacekeepers in an obvious accident involving Azerbaijani forces.
Photographs of the incident’s aftermath posted on social media confirmed the rear windscreen of the car which the Russian troopers had been travelling in riddled with bullet holes.
“Azerbaijan defeated Karabakh with a clear taste of Russian blood on its lips,” wrote Zhivov Z, one among many Russian army bloggers who’ve come to prominence as commentators on the Ukraine battle.
“All those who are now dancing around the Azerbaijani victory – you are dancing on the bodies of Russian officers,” he wrote, calling, together with different bloggers, for Moscow to retaliate towards Baku.
An outbreak of anti-Russian feeling in Armenia, historically one among Russia’s closest allies, has made the scenario harder for Moscow, whose assets and a spotlight are stretched by the battle in Ukraine.
Protesters who say they really feel betrayed by Russia’s failure to cease Azerbaijan have gathered outdoors the Russian embassy in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, and chanted anti-Russian slogans.
“This is a dangerous tendency,” mentioned Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser. “Anti-Russian hysteria is being stoked.”
Nikol Pashinyan, Armenia’s prime minister, angered Moscow in the run-up to the crisis by saying it had been a mistake to rely solely on Russia to guard his nation’s safety.
Accusing the roughly 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh of failing to do their job, he then pointedly held joint army drills with U.S. forces whereas promising to diversify Yerevan’s safety companions.
Russia has responded with a harm limitation train, blaming the debacle squarely on Pashinyan and accusing him of diplomatic incompetence and ingratitude.
Pashinyan, who got here to energy on the again of road protests in 2018 that diluted Russian affect, has lengthy been seen by Moscow as too pro-Western. It now accuses him of triggering the crisis by saying – after Russian peacekeepers had been deployed to Karabakh in 2020 following Armenia’s defeat in a 44-day battle – that he recognised Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.
Baku has lengthy argued that Karabakh falls inside its personal borders, however Karabakh Armenians wished Pashinyan to recognise their independence and unify them with Armenia.
Some Russian officers similar to Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Security Council, have signalled they might be glad to see Pashinyan – who’s now going through calls from his rivals to resign – toppled.
“Guess (NYSE:) what fate awaits him?” Medvedev wrote on Tuesday, the day that Azerbaijan despatched its forces into Karabakh, after publishing a listing of what he noticed as Pashinyan’s errors, together with “flirting with NATO”.
Russia could also be on the backfoot nevertheless it believes Armenia’s room for manoeuvre is proscribed, whoever is in cost.
Margarita Simonyan, one among Russia’s strongest state media managers and herself of Armenian descent, mentioned Moscow mustn’t have to elucidate its actions in Karabakh to Pashinyan, whom she accused of promoting out his personal folks.
“Russia can get by without Armenia,” she wrote. “Armenia cannot get by without Russia.”